EU, US defuse automotive conflict between Kosovo and Serbia
Kosovo and Serbia, with support from the EU and the US, have ended a potentially explosive dispute over car license plates.
According to the agreement, NATO troops will guard the crossing points between a Serbian enclave in northern Kosovo and Serbia from Saturday 2 October.
And local authorities will put stickers on car license plates to cover national badges until a better solution is found within the next six months by a special “task force” chaired by the EU. .
“After two days of intense negotiations, an agreement on de-escalation and the way forward has just been found,” EU special envoy to the Western Balkans Miroslav LajÄÃ¡k told Brussels on Thursday.
“It’s good for the whole region,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also said during a visit to Belgrade.
The deal was “fair”, said Serbian President Aleksandar VuÄiÄ, adding: “I would like (…) to find more lasting solutions which do not include recognition of Kosovo”.
Tensions erupted recently when Kosovo sent special border police to stop Serbian plate cars to protest Serbia’s treatment of Kosovar plate vehicles, while Serbia sent armored cars and planes of war in response.
“The speed of the onset of tensions was a bit surprising,” Gabriel Escobar, a senior US official in charge of the Western Balkans, also told Brussels on Thursday.
“Ethnic tensions in the region are as high as they have been for a long time, and (…) it needs the kind of vigorous diplomacy and engagement that we had in the 1990s,” he said. -he adds.
Escobar spoke to the press after helping LajÄÃ¡k negotiate the car deal in talks with Kosovo and Serbian officials.
âThe purpose of my trip was to show my support for the [EU-brokered] dialogue and make it clear that we see dialogue as the place where these issues need to be resolved, âhe said.
Its supporting role marked a departure from the former US administration of President Donald Trump, which sidelined the EU by holding its own Kosovo-Serbia talks in Washington.
The US re-engagement with the EU in the Western Balkans comes amid talk of yet another transatlantic disagreement over a US defense deal with Australia, which destroyed a huge French contract.
But when asked if the Western allies were in danger of breaking up, Escobar replied, “No, no, no.”
âNATO remains the cornerstone of our security policy … Even though many of our [US] the challenges are outside Europe, the core of our partners is in Europe and that will not change, “he said.
For their part, EU leaders are due to meet those of the Western Balkans in Brdo, Slovenia, next week to reaffirm their “unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans”, according to a draft statement.
But despite the fine words, enlargement is held back by a quarrel between Bulgaria and North Macedonia and more broadly by Danish, Dutch and French skepticism.
EU states could even suspend visa-free travel from the region due to a recent spike in “unfounded” asylum claims.
And for his part, Escobar warned: âThe message that the [EU] door is open must be disseminated more widely “.
âPeople in the area sometimes don’t hear this message or don’t hear the message that the door is closed,â he said.
The US official celebrated what EU enlargement has already achieved.
“We cannot ignore the fact that enlargement has pushed the frontiers of freedom and democracy as far east as possible,” Escobar said.
“The real story of the Balkans is dynamic economic growth,” he added.
He played down concerns that Serbia was too close to Russia.
âIn addition to gas, they [the Russians] hardly provide any exports. They matter very little. They are not even close to being one of the top 10 investors in the Serbian economy, âhe said.
And he predicted that the five EU states that did not recognize Kosovo – Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain – would reconsider their position if Serbia finally did.
âThe five ungrateful await the outcome of the [EU-brokered] dialogue before declaring himself, âsaid Escobar.